Coming and Going: More WiFi in the air, giving to the gulf, and more

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Friday, September 24, 2010; 1:32 PM

Log on to JetBlue

Coming soon to a JetBlue plane near you: WiFi. And not just any old WiFi, but "the industry's best in-flight broadband for commercial aviation," JetBlue promises.

The airline announced last week that it will partner with ViaSat to create in-flight broadband using satellite technology. That's a huge departure from other airlines, which offer Internet access through ground hookups.

And that's why it's going to be a while before JetBlue customers can take advantage of the new perk. The system first has to be tested and then certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. JetBlue and ViaSat expect to begin rollout on the fleet's more than 160 planes by mid-2012. It's unclear how long it will take to complete - or how much customers will have to pay for the access. LiveTV, a wholly owned subsidiary of JetBlue that handles the airline's in-flight entertainment, will install the new system and lead the certification process.

JetBlue has tested WiFi in the past, providing what it called BetaBlue on one of its flights. But even the airline admits that the connection was limited.

In the three years since, "technology has advanced by generations," said JetBlue chief executive Dave Barger in a written statement. "Rather than invest in current technology, designed to transmit broadcast video and audio, we elected to partner with ViaSat to create broadband functionality worthy of today's interactive personal technology needs."

With the expanded broadband, passengers will be able to e-mail, watch videos and much more. "It will probably feel much like what you have at home," said airline spokesman Mateo Lleras in a phone interview.

Check in early, help the gulf

Here's one airline fee you might not balk at: From now through Oct. 4, Southwest Airlines will donate $1 of every EarlyBird Check-In purchase to the National Wildlife Refuge Association's Gulf of Mexico wildlife recovery efforts.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of its early check-in program, Southwest will contribute up to $100,000 of what it collects in the $10 fee. Since the airline doesn't assign seats, passengers who pay for early check-in can board earlier and presumably get better seating.

The National Wildlife Refuge Association is a nonprofit that has been working to restore and conserve habitats for pelicans, sea turtles, terns and other species affected by the BP oil spill.

"This giving program is particularly relevant as oil spill recovery efforts will continue far into the future," said Linda Rutherford, vice president of communication and strategic outreach for the airline, in a written statement.

For more info: www.southwest.com/nwra.

Upgraded lounges

The drinks are on American Airlines, at least if you're a member of its Admirals Club lounges.

Starting Oct. 1, American will offer wine, beer and spirits free of charge to passengers visiting any of its domestic clubs (international clubs already serve complimentary alcoholic beverages.) For all you teetotalers out there, complimentary coffee, tea, soft drinks and juices will also be available.

For those more interested in working than drinking, the airline also announced that it is adding new HP personal computers to its lounges in New York, Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth. Lounges in Atlanta, Boston, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and San Francisco also have the new computers. The airline will install the HP Compaq 8000 Elite Business PCs and HP TouchSmart PCs in other lounges throughout the year.

A one-day pass to the Admirals Club costs $50. Annual membership for the first year starts at $350 depending on your frequent-flier status.

In other American Airlines news, passengers departing from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport and San Juan, Puerto Rico, as well as six foreign airports - Barcelona, Rome, Frankfurt, Manchester, Milan and Zurich - can now receive their boarding passes electronically on their mobile phones. The mobile boarding pass option is available at 50 airports.

Travel Ticker

The Ritz-Carlton has launched a new free membership rewards program. Earn Ritz-Carlton Rewards points or frequent-flier miles with participating airlines, or redeem points with partners such as Abercrombie & Kent, Neiman Marcus and Vera Wang. Info: www.ritzcarltonrewards.com

Reporting: Nancy Trejos. Help feed CoGo. Send travel news to: cogo@washpost.com. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071


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